Tim Stanley: For Korea veteran, memories of ‘forgotten war’ still vivid after 72 years | Local News
If the thought of being sent off to war didn’t sound very appealing, Bob Kenslow at least had some consolation.
He would not go alone.
“I remember we all went out to the fairgrounds, where we were based, to meet the train,” Kenslow said, recalling the day he and the other members of his Marine Corps Reserve unit from Tulsa left for service in Korea.
“Our families came to see us off.”
But for Kenslow, the comforting closeness of his Tulsa comrades would not be appreciated for long.
As soon as they arrived in California, he was isolated and separated from the group. The Marine Corps, it seemed, had something different in mind for him.
Some of his special WWII training would make him more valuable in another role.
Last weekend marked the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950.
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It officially began when communist North Korea invaded South Korea, prompting a United Nations force led by the United States to intervene.
Occurring between World War II and Vietnam — conflicts that, for different reasons, stand out in American minds — Korea has long been overshadowed.
But for those who fought the “forgotten war”, as it is sometimes called, there can be no forgetting.
I had the chance to interview a few Korean veterans and can confirm that their stories are worth remembering, their sacrifices worth recognizing.
A World War II and Korean veteran who later worked on the Atlas and Titan missile programs, Kenslow, 96, from Coweta, originally aimed to become a Navy fighter pilot.
But soon after graduating from Tulsa Central High School in 1943, her dream was shattered.
“I didn’t pass the color blindness test to fly,” he said.
Instead, it would play a pilot support role. For the remainder of World War II he was stationed in North Carolina, where he worked in aviation communications.
After the war, Kenslow switched to Marine Corps Reserves.
“We thought we were done with wars,” he said.
“When I heard about how things were going there (in Korea), I grabbed my gym bag, went to the fairgrounds and told them I wanted to quit” the Reserve, laughed Kenslow. “They told me I was two days too late.”
Recalled to active duty for Korea, Kenslow was assigned to a Navy aircraft wing, where his job was communications for close air support missions.
In close air support, enemy targets are in close proximity to friendly ground troops, which means that a high level of communication between air and ground forces is essential.
Kenslow’s introduction to Korea took place in October 1950 in Wonsan.
“When I got there I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to end this soon. “”
UN forces had their way with the North Koreans, pushing them not only out of South Korea, but to their northern border with China.
“We didn’t realize the magnitude” of what was to come, Kenslow said.
When Chinese units started crossing the border to support North Korea, that changed everything, he said. It was then that “the great, great war began”.
One of the busiest times for Kenslow’s team was that first of December, when UN forces in North Korea were forced to evacuate. Communication was constant with the pilots supporting the evacuation, he said.
Kenslow, who operated in and around combat zones all his time in Korea, would also contribute by learning crypto.
“They would not allow cryptographers to work near combat zones. It was too great a risk if they were captured. So they would pick someone from the unit and train them in cryptography.
That way, if you were caught, “cryptography wasn’t in your job title and you didn’t have to lie about it.” You were just another Marine with a rifle.
As his unit’s de facto cryptographer, Kenslow encoded and decoded the messages.
Another task that often fell to his team was to rescue downed pilots.
“Once it happened on the radio, if you weren’t doing something specific, you would grab your gun and follow along. We all piled into a truck, we tried to get there before the enemy.
Responders picked up the pilot, then blew up the plane to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.
Kenslow did a few of those runs, including picking up two Australian riders who had run out of fuel.
“They were characters,” he laughed.
Once a sailor
When Kenslow, who rose to the rank of staff sergeant, finally returned to Tulsa, he was interviewed by local television.
He thinks it’s because he was the first Tulsa serviceman to return from Korea. Those who had served in World War II were often sent home before others.
Kenslow then worked for the US Air Force as a civilian employee. He was a contract administrator on intercontinental ballistic missile projects.
It included the Atlas, the first operational ICB missile developed by the United States, as well as the Titan I and Titan II projects.
Kenslow remains proud of his military service and the tradition of the “citizen soldier” he represented.
Guardsmen and reservists, both rookies and veterans like Kenslow, played a big role in Korea.
At their peak, nearly 50% of all Marines were reservists.
About 122,000 Navy reservists were called up for active duty during the war.
Kenslow wishes he could reconnect with anyone from his reserve unit in Tulsa.
His career took him across the country before finally returning to Oklahoma.
“I don’t think I’ve seen any of those guys again. I often wondered what happened to them.
If you can help me, contact me at the email address below.
“Once a navy, always a navy. That’s what we said,” Kenslow said.
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